Catching Up

It’s been a busy time, since last I stopped by here. The entire month of December is gone, and we’re a week into a New Year. So what’s going on?

I went to Portland for a long weekend in early December. It was my step-mom’s 70th birthday, and I went up to help her celebrate. Ted didn’t come with me, mostly because of his cat allergies, which means he can’t come inside (or at least not for long) most of the houses for our family. That can work fine in summer, we sleep at a hotel or house sit for neighbors, and we eat dinner in my parents’ back yard. That wouldn’t work this time, as it was snow and ice everywhere. Maya didn’t come with me, because while the party was on Dec 10th, her finals started Dec 12th, so she had to be here to study. So it was me alone. While there, I realized that I believe the only other time I’ve gone to Portland without Ted and/or Maya, it was January of 1988, when I went up to meet my sisters for the first time. They were 17 years old and in high school. I’m pretty sure that Ted came with me on my trips after that, and there were times when Maya and I went without him (cat issues, or work), or the three of us went. It was nice in a way, though I did miss them. I flew up on Thursday, and on Friday my dad and I went down the hill from the house to help get ready for the party. A neighbor, who has parties and fundraisers in her house often, offered the use of her home for the party, which was great. Dad and Julie live on a VERY steep hill, which is absolutely no fun when it is covered in ice. So to get down the hill can be tricky. We had walking poles, but it was so steep, we decided to slide down the hill on a piece of cardboard. That sounds more fun than it was. The ice was thin, and not at all smooth, and we felt every bump and rock on the way down. The cardboard shredded by the time we got to the bottom of the hill. My dad took this picture of me when I’m part way down. At this point, I’m frustrated, and thinking it would have been more fun to stay in the house with a cup of hot chocolate or something. This little puppy ran out to say hello and urge me on. It worked, the puppy was SO cute, it cheered me right up. The rest of the way to the house was still slippery, but we had our poles, and it wasn’t steep, so we were fine.
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I spent that evening with my sister and her husband, which was really great. They married in March, and we went up to celebrate in September. We’ve met her husband a couple of times, but this was the first time I got to spend time with just Melissa and Jason, and it was really nice to get to know him better. Saturday, Melissa and I did some Christmas shopping, and had lunch with Jason and some friends. Saturday night was the party, which was great, the ice had melted and everything was lovely. Then Sunday I came home. It was a fun trip.

What else…well, I caught a stupid cold. We had our annual baking day, which was fun, and I put together a box of cookies to bring to my friend Trudy. I used to deliver Meals on Wheels to her, but she went off of the route last year, when she moved from her home to an assisted living facility. I brought them to her on the Sunday before Christmas, and on Monday realized I was sick with a cold. Damn. It was a crummy head cold, which then went into my chest. I didn’t deliver Meals on Wheels that week, because I felt horrid, and also I worried about getting the clients on my route sick. I went again the Thursday after Christmas, and I asked another woman on my route, Dana, if she had heard how Trudy was doing. Trudy passed away the Tuesday after Christmas. Crap. I hope to hell I didn’t give her my cold. She was 101, and when I saw her last, she was not doing well. Not much appetite, not dressed, just taking it easy. Not really like herself. I am going to miss her, she was a real character and such a sweet woman.

Last weekend was my birthday, and it was beautiful weather, so Ted, Maya, Mulder, and I went to Pescadero, which is a little town at the coast between San Francisco and Santa Cruz. They have a bakery there that sells some amazing bread with artichoke hearts baked inside. So we ate delicious artichoke bread, then went to the beach to smell the salt water. It was a perfect day, and when we got home and cleaned up, we got dressed and went out for a delicious birthday dinner. Here’s Mulder at the beach.
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Now here we are, it’s a rainy Sunday afternoon. We’ve been watching the screeners that Ted gets for being part of the SAG-AFTRA Union. We’ve seen Lion, which we loved, and Fences, which was very good, and I liked it more than Ted did. We have a couple of others that we haven’t watched yet. Manchester by the Sea, Jackie, and likely one or two others that I’ve forgotten. We’re supposed to get La La Land, but it hasn’t happened yet. We’re also watching the new One Day at a Time reboot on Netflix, which we are really enjoying. Mostly it’s been a good winter so far, but I could have done without losing Trudy or getting sick. Next weekend we bury my Grandma’s remains, and my mom’s as well. My Grandma was cremated, and wanted to be buried in the grave with her first husband, my Grandpa Roland, who died when my mom was 5. We are going to bury my mom’s remains in with them, as well as a bit of my Uncle Forrest’s remains, and a picture of their baby Roland, who died a few weeks after birth. There’s good and bad to that. I miss my Grandma, and it’s going to be sad. I miss my mom, and that’s going to be sad, too. I miss my uncle. Blech, it all sucks. But on the other hand, 4 of the 6 cousins will be there, including my brother Richard, who I don’t see often, since he lives in Alaska. I’m looking forward to seeing him.

That’s it for now. Hoping you’re well.

Grandma



Grandma
is Lily Tomlin’s movie.  There are other actors, such as Sam Elliott, Julia Garner, and Marcia Gay Harden, and they all give nuanced, wonderful performances.  But the story is that of Lily Tomlin’s character, Elle.  Elle is a 70-something grandmother, recently widowed by the death of her long term love. She is a writer and poet, who is down to her last few dollars when her granddaughter, Sage, comes to her for help.  Sage is pregnant and needs money for an abortion, so off they go in search of funds, either collecting from friends who owe Elle money, collecting from Sage’s sometimish boyfriend, selling valuable (?) belongings, or borrowing money from an ex.  Whatever it takes.  Tomlin hits all the right notes.  Notes of grief for her loss, love for her granddaughter, her ever present wit and sharp tongue.  I don’t know if Tomlin will win an Oscar for her low key, pitch perfect performance, but she’s certainly in the running, and I expect she’ll win a few other awards along the way.

Miscellaneous Stuff

Avo Bagel
Look at that awesome breakfast. Bagel, toasted, with avocado and lemon pepper. That’s it. So delicious. Served with OJ and tea (PG Tips, a bit of milk and sugar). One nice thing about Facebook is that some people post pictures of their food, and you can choose to be inspired by their pictures. I’m not sure I would have come up with this combination on my own, so thank you Facebook!

Then there’s this…the Gluten Free Museum. Famous paintings, with any offending gluten removed. Click the link to see more awesomeness.

Are you a fan of the ‘Little House’ books, by Laura Ingalls Wilder? If so, and if you like knowing the background behind these fictional books, I recommend the newly released “Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography“. It’s an amazing amount of research into almost every detail of Wilder’s unpublished autobiography, “Pioneer Girl”. Wilder first put her memories down and tried to publish them as “Pioneer Girl”, which is the story of her early life. The story is not written for children, and has some darker elements than the ‘Little House’ stories. The decision was made that the stories would better be told as children’s books, and Laura and her daughter Rose worked through the same material, and they turned into the ‘Little House’ stories that we all know and love. The difference between reality and fiction is sometimes jarring. That she had a little brother, who died as an infant, I knew. That the infamous Nellie Oleson was a composite of several girls in Laura’s youth, I knew. But that Jack, Laura’s beloved brindle bulldog and constant companion, was actually given away when Laura was 4…that was too much for me, and I thought I was going to have to breathe into a paper bag to keep from passing out.

If you’re looking for a good book to read, I really enjoyed ‘The Precious One‘, by Marisa de los Santos. I’ve read a couple of her other books, and I really enjoy them. They’re light enough to be an easy read, but I love her writing and her lovely use of language.  Without giving anything important away, this is the story of Taisy and Willow, sisters 18 years apart in age.  They share the same father, who is imperious and overwhelming and towers above their lives. They’ve only met once before, when Willow was a baby, when Taisy comes to stay for a short time at the request of their father.  Taisy is determined to find answers to how her father turned out to be the man he is, the kind of man who would leave her, her mother, and brother, and start over with a new wife and daughter.  Willow is focused on her dislike and jealousy of Taisy, and trying to navigate the treacherous waters of High School, after a life of being home schooled.

Ted and I went to see ‘Wild Tales‘, which was in town for about 15 minutes.  We’re fortunate that there’s one theater in town that plays independent and foreign films. I knew nothing about the movie going in, except that I wasn’t interested in any other movies that were playing, and that it was a foreign film. It’s a series of stories with a common theme, and that’s all I will say. Also, fairly dark, but not horrific, and pretty laugh out loud funny in some parts. Ted thought one woman in the audience was going to choke, she was laughing so hard. I’ll be watching for it to come to Netflix or something, so I can see it again.

Whew.   Now you’re all caught up.  I can’t believe it’s been so long since I’ve posted…I blame my iPad.  I don’t really like the WordPress app on it, so I get frustrated and don’t bother.  For this post, I pulled out my old laptop.  I should do this more often, clearly. I’ll leave you with the knowledge that Maya is now 19, and that we had a lovely weekend celebrating. Also, if you like to laugh, go look at this.

Boyhood


‘Boyhood’ is the story of Mason and his family, and follows them from the summer of 2002 until the autumn of 2013. At the beginning of the film, Mason is in 1st grade. His parents are divorced, and he hasn’t seen his father in a few years, as he’s been working in Alaska. His father (Mason Sr., played by Ethan Hawke) has come back to Texas and wants to get to know his kids again. Mason’s sister, Samantha, is two years older than he, and is always ready to goad and torture him if she can get away with it. Their mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette) is a loving, though imperfect mother. She reads to them at bedtime, gets them out the door to school in the morning, and does her best to support them, going to college in order to teach. Mason Sr. is a loving, carefree type of weekend dad, taking the kids bowling, buying them gifts, trying to get to know them.

The magic of the film is that it was actually filmed over this same period. The actors came together and worked on scripts annually, and filmed for a few days each year. The director, Richard Linklater, wanted to tell the story of the parent/child relationship, the story of a boy growing up, but filming over more than a decade meant that there were many unknowns in the culture and the world around them, events and changes that would be incorporated into his framework as they went along.

So we have this clever conceit, that the story is filmed over 11 or 12 years, that the actors are growing up and growing older in front of our eyes. That’s enough to make the movie interesting, but it’s not enough to make it good. What makes it good is the writing that is involved, the beautiful cinematography, and the honest, wonderful performances of everyone involved. I don’t think the movie had many missteps.

As with other Linklater films, there isn’t a huge plot. It’s not the story of a boy battling cancer or saving the world or falling in love. It’s the story of a family, and a glimpse at some of the events that occur in the boy’s life over this time span. Watching the boy grow up and be about the same age that Maya was those same years…I don’t know, it touched me and reminded me of how quickly time flies right on by.

It’s a film that has me thinking about it afterward, one that I truly enjoyed. I think I’d like to go see it again, actually. It’s that well done.

Ted and I both really enjoyed the movie, and we decided to do his and hers blog posts. Find his here!

Belle

Belle
Belle takes real life characters, switches their stories around a bit, and puts them into a Merchant Ivoryish version of a Jane Austen book, if Jane Austen had written a novel about race, and does so compellingly and satisfyingly.

Dido Elizabeth Belle was the mixed-race daughter of a wealthy, titled British soldier in the late 1700s, when Britain was still very much involved in the slave trade. After the death of her mother, she is brought to the sumptuous country estate of her Great Uncle and Great Aunt to be raised, alongside her cousin Elizabeth. The girls grow up together as best friends and almost equals, though Dido doesn’t eat dinner with the others when guests are present. After the death of her father leaves her a sizable inheritance, she and Elizabeth are put into the Austenesque situation of needing to either find themselves husbands, or resign themselves to genteel spinsterhood. Elizabeth has the advantage of being white and from a titled family, but the disadvantage of being poor, as her father has other children with his new life, and is not leaving any money to her. Dido has the advantage of money, but the disadvantage of being ‘mulatto’. Because she is both mixed-race and a Lady (or would be if she were not illegitimate), she is unlikely to make a good match. Those men whom a Lady with money should attract will not be willing to marry a mulatto. Those men who would be willing to marry her are beneath her station in life. Such are the worries of the Great Uncle and Great Aunt, who resign themselves early on to her never marrying.

The Great Uncle to the girls happens to be The Lord Chief Justice in England, and is deliberating on how to decide on a case which may be the beginning of the end of the slave trade in England. The case is the real life story of the slave ship Zorn, a case in which the captain and crew drowned all of the slaves, and then claimed restitution for the loss of ‘cargo’ from the insurance company.

The film was compelling throughout, the scenery and costumes gorgeous, the characters well acted and real. I enjoyed the film, inspired by the real-life painting of the cousins above, very much indeed. It was a lovely way to spend my Mother’s Day.

August: Osage County


August: Osage County is the story of a brutally toxic family brought together for the funeral of the patriarch. This family is so dysfunctional it’s painful to watch. Based on the play by Tracy Letts, and starring Maryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Chris Cooper, Sam Shepard, Abigail Breslin, Ewan McGregor, Dermot Mulroney, Juliette Lewis, Margo Martindale, and Benedict Cumberbatch, August: Osage County begins with Sam Shepard explaining the lay of the land to a new caretaker (Misty Upham, who plays the only sane person in the house). The lay of the land is that he drinks all day, and his wife takes pills all day, and they barely tolerate each other.

Meryl Streep is Violet, the matriarch of the family, addicted to pills (taken at least partially to kill the pain of mouth cancer she is suffering), addicted to cruelty, wasp tongued and perhaps even evil.

Julia Roberts is Barbara, the oldest daughter, who looks at her mother and sees a possible future self, one that she fears and does not want to acknowledge, but one that looms nonetheless.

Margo Martindale is Mattie Fae, Violet’s sister, who has a kinder persona than her sister, but underneath is just about as cruel.

Rounding out the tale are Barbara’s husband and daughter, Mattie Fae’s husband and son, and Violet’s other daughters. The mood in the house is dark, about as dark as it can be. The walls are painted black (or at least seemed to be to me…we watched on the computer. Perhaps on the big screen they’re merely dark dark red or something), the drapes are taped shut, lest any light intrude on the torture the family is spreading around like a virus.

We were able to view the movie before its release due to Ted’s SAG/AFTRA union membership, as it is nominated for several awards. Maya and I really liked it a lot, but Ted wasn’t quite so sure. I think I’d like to see it again, actually.

Merry Christmas to All!


It’s morning on Christmas Eve.  I was watching Tim Minchin sing “white wine in the sun”, my favorite secular Christmas song by far, so I thought I’d share it with you.   Gifts have been purchased, delivered, and wrapped. Cards and packages were mailed early last week. Cookies have been baked. The house is decorated. Our traditional Christmas morning breakfast of Cinnamon rolls (from a tube) is in the fridge, as well as the ingredients for our contributions to Christmas dinner. Ted is at work, and Maya is still sleeping. I’m not sure I can face the grocery store today, and I didn’t plan a Christmas Eve dinner, so it’s looking more like Chinese take out tonight. Sounds good to me.

I know I have other things I could be telling you, but for the life of me I cannot right now remember what they are.

Oh, I know! How about Utah??? Perhaps it is wrong of me, but I love that Same Sex Marriage is now (at least for the moment) legal in Utah. The Mormon Church there got all involved in California’s ban (since declared null and void) a few years ago, and I’ve always resented them for it.   And how awesome is this picture?
Boy scouts delivering pizza to county workers, workers who are working through lunch breaks in order to serve the thousands of people rushing to get married. In Utah. It’s a Christmas miracle, I tell you.

Also, Ted’s job requires that he join the SAG-AFTRA union, which means that he becomes a voting member for the SAG Awards, and we get to watch a bunch of nominated films for free in the comfort of our own home. Sweet, huh? So far we’ve watched a couple of depressing movies…1st was ‘Dallas Buyers Club’, and next was ’12 Years a Slave’. Both really well done, but not exactly your feel good films of the year. It’s interesting to me how they are delivered…’Dallas Buyers Club’ arrived as a DVD in the mail, while ’12 Years a Slave’ and several others are delivered via iTunes, which I don’t like as much, because we don’t have Apple TV, which means we have to watch it on the computer rather than the TV. Oh well. It’s still fun. I guess I know what we’ll be doing this winter break…watching movies.

I’m currently hooked on the ‘Divergent’ books. I finished the second one last night. The first (Divergent) I got from the library, but the waiting list for the second was months long, so I ordered it for my Kindle, which was actually really nice. I don’t have a lot of experience with the electronic reading, but I liked it. Now I want the 3rd book….I hope Santa’s listening.

I just made an appointment for Thursday to donate blood. Blech. I’m dedicated enough that I do it once in awhile, but I’m not dedicated enough that I do it whenever I’m eligible. Far, far from it. You can donate maybe 6 times a year, but I only muster up the courage once or twice.

Last and most certainly least, I was walking the other day and saw a big beautiful lemon tree in a neighborhood yard. I asked if it would be OK if I were to pick a couple of lemons, and they graciously said yes. While looking for one to shove in the cavity of the chicken that was that night’s dinner, I came across this mutant lemon, and I had to pick it and bring it home so I could show you. The tiny lemons are actually normal sized. Then there’s the one that’s about the size of a grapefruit. And then there’s mutant. Ted thinks it looks kind of like a bird, but I say it looks like it’s giving us the bird, so to speak.
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Merry Christmas to All, and to all a Good Night.

The Book Thief


The Book Thief is the story of Liesel, a German girl who is given up for adoption by her mother, who is a Communist and is perhaps being taken away by the Nazis. The story takes place in the lead-up to and during World War II. On the train with her mother and younger brother, Liesel’s brother suddenly dies. No explanation is given, other than harsh living conditions and not enough food. He is quickly buried, and as they family walks away from the grave, Liesel picks up a book dropped by the grave keeper. Rather than calling out and giving it back to him, she hides it in her jacket. This book is important to her, it connects her to her brother, though she cannot read.

She comes to a small village, to be raised by Hans and Rosa, an unlikely couple. Hans is a sign painter who can no longer support the family. He is a gentle and loving soul, very generous with his smile and his heart. Rosa is an angry woman, quick to scold and criticize, who brings in wash from the Mayor’s wife to make money.

Hans teaches Liesel to read, and she is soon looking for other books that she might read. She discovers two sources…book burnings, where if you wait around until everyone else has gone home, you might find a book that is only singed, and the Mayor’s library, which his wife keeps in pristine shape after the death of her son, whose library it really was.

The film shows what life may have been like in a small German village during World War II, when you were perhaps not sympathetic to the Nazi cause, but it was a very dangerous time in which to let these sympathies be known. When the family takes in a young Jewish man and hides him in their basement, their fear in being caught, as well as his fear that his being there might bring ruin down upon them all, is so very real. Rosa’s panic, and her thought of turning him in, lasts only a moment, and as the danger is so real, she should be forgiven for a very natural instinct.

The Book Thief was engrossing…at one point in the film I looked around at the audience, and everyone was absolutely still, focused and watching, waiting to see what would happen next. No texting, no whispering, no rattling candy boxes, none of it. The film has been getting mixed reviews, but I didn’t feel mixed about it at all. I enjoyed it thoroughly.

Catching Fire


Ted and Maya went to see “Catching Fire” on Friday, and they liked it enough that they were willing to go see it again with me yesterday. Perhaps luckily for me, my memory is crap for books that I only read once…Gone With the Wind and Little House on the Prairie, I know every word. Catching Fire, I have vague impressions, though I know they were good and I was hooked and HAD to get into the next book asap. So it was although it was new to me, which I’ll admit, I enjoy.

Side note that the bad part of the film, for me, was that I didn’t eat any popcorn. Popcorn, to me, means popcorn and a coke. And I gave up coke a few weeks ago. Rats.

Aside from the no coke thing, the movie was GREAT. I mean, let’s assume you’ve seen (or read) The Hunger Games, so you know the story. If you haven’t, imagine yourself in a dystopian society, where the government punishes the 12 districts for their rebellion 75 years ago by taking 2 children from each district every year, and putting them all in a Roman coliseum style battle to the death. At the end of the first film, the main character, Katniss, and her provincial mate, Peeta, have both survived (against all odds, as only one is supposed to win). Katniss’s humanity towards the other children in the battle have inspired some in the other districts to have faith that they can rebel and conquer the evil Capital.

‘Catching Fire’ begins a year later, and we’re seeing some of the psychological wear and tear that such a battle has on the ‘winners’ (or as another important character says, there are no winners…only survivors). Katniss and Peeta both suffer from nightmares, and rebellion is indeed starting up in the districts, especially the poorer ones. The President needs a way to quell the rebellion, so he decides that the solution is to kill Katniss, publicly, and make her seem selfish and cruel in the meantime. So instead of picking the next group of children for The Hunger Games from the general population, they pick from the champions. So Katniss and Peeta are back in, trying to fight to the death.

The second movie could have been too similar to the first, too much of another battle, but instead, they changed things around enough to show the disquiet in the districts, the mounting unrest, and the fear within the capital.

The books were good, but the movies could have easily been crap, had they hired less talented actors. There is never an action movie feel to it, though it is definitely an action film. Because the actors are not behaving as action movie heroes, with wise-cracking quips and explosions everywhere, but instead are terrorized by their totalitarian state, and are at some level merely trying to stay alive, the movie works. You begin to see that the everyday person can be as much as a hero as the protagonist. All of these brave little acts of rebellion are inspiring, both to the audience, and of course to Katniss and Peeta. Catching Fire is the second of a trilogy of books, so of course it stops when you wish it would continue. The asshats in charge have decided to break the 3rd book into 2 movies. Greedy.

What Maisie Knew

What Maisie Knew
I remember reading Henry James “What Maisie Knew” many years ago, perhaps in college. I’m not a good one for remembering books years later, plot lines and characters and so on. What I remembered from this book was, “Wow, these parents are assholes”. Fast forward to 2013, and there’s a film version. I was kind of scared to see it, because I remember being somewhat depressed by the novel, and I don’t always want to be depressed by films. Sometimes it’s OK, I guess. Then it got really good reviews, and my MIL went to see it and loved it, and I thought, OK, I’ll go. Well, it was apparently only in our local theater for about 15 minutes, because it was gone. So I waited another 15 minutes, and here it is, available on DVD at our local DVD rental place (I KNOW! We still sometimes go to the DVD rental place!). Excellent. Maya and I plopped ourselves down on the sofa to see what we could see.

If you’re not familiar with the story, “What Maisie Knew” is the story of a young girl, Maisie, who is unfortunate enough to be the child of two incredibly narcissistic and selfish parents. The background music of her childhood is her parents screaming at each other. She’s so used to it that it barely affects her. Finally, the parents decide they want out, and they divorce. That’s a relief, right? Well, it would be, except that the two of them only care about Maisie in as much as they can use her to hurt each other. It’s miserable.

There are some bright spots, however, in the form of Maisie’s brand new step parents. Dad marries the nanny, Mom marries the first guy she can find (Maisie hasn’t even met him before) to get back at Dad for marrying the nanny. The step parents are horrified by the behavior of their spouses with regards to Maisie, and they do step in and try to help her.

The actors in this film are all pretty amazing. I wouldn’t fault any of them. I don’t think I’ve disliked Julianne Moore before, but I did in this movie. The girl who played Maisie, Onata Aprile, was fabulous. Credit goes first to Henry James, for his telling of the story from a child’s point of view, and making her a believable character. Next, to the director, for not having Maisie be played as a spoiled brat or a wise-cracking world weary soul. Instead, she’s played somewhat stoically as a girl whose innocence has been battered and used as a weapon, whose childhood has been a wreck. She’s a little girl who doesn’t know everything, but she certainly knows the rules about her parents, and how to quietly tame the fires of their hatred. As when she is spending her first weekend with her dad, and mom sends her flowers. She knows the flowers will upset her dad, and that they were designed to do so. She throws them away. When her step-mom/nanny asks her why, she says, simply, “Dad’s allergic.”

Best of all, she is still able to trust adults and be happy in life. As long as the adults in question are not her parents.

The Way Way Back


“The Way Way Back” is a summer coming of age movie, in which Duncan and his mom, her newish boyfriend and his daughter, go to his beach house to spend the summer. Gosh, how can anyone in their 40s afford to take the summer off from work, aside from (perhaps) school teachers, who are generally out of work all summer anyway? Yes, we thought that. Let it go. Duncan is about as awkward as a teen without braces and glasses and a neck-gear can possibly be. He desperately needs his father, but his father is out of the picture, and he’s stuck with a toad in the body of Steve Carell, a guy that any teen would loathe to have come home and start having sex with his mother. I mean, come on. He’s bossy, he’s insulting, he’s a hypocrite, and he’s disingenuous. Kind of nice to see Carell play so against his regular likable guy type, actually.

Duncan is miserable at the beach house, and so ventures out on a bike found in the garage, one obviously outgrown by Carell’s daughter years ago. He explores the town, and as is the way with such films, he finds a group of rag-tag folks to take him in, led by Owen, who surely had dreams of being a stand-up comic, but either wasn’t good enough, or the market fell apart for stand-up. He’s always talking, cracking jokes in that almost manic, trying for a laugh way, but even though he is predictably childish and immature, he is also kind and caring, and really just wants to have a good time, and to see those around him having a good time as well. He becomes the father figure for Duncan, encouraging him to find his own way. Did I mention that Owen owns (or at least runs) a water park? Well, he does, and he hires Duncan to take care of miscellaneous jobs, like setting up beach chairs, cleaning up barf, whatever is required.

Toni Collette does a great job as Duncan’s mom, Sam Rockwell is charming as Owen, and Allison Janney is the always drunk next door neighbor. I thought they all did a great job, but none so great as Liam James, who played the awkward Duncan with such a pitch perfect note, you just wanted to give him a hug and tell him that it will be OK. Maybe not now, perhaps not this summer, but someday.

I won’t tell you any more, except to say that this sleeper of a film deserves some attention. Involved are the studio behind “Juno”, and the writers won an Oscar for “The Descendents”. No, it’s not Oscar material, but it is definitely charming, and worth your time and money at the box office.

Before Midnight

If you’re a fan of the Julie Delpy/Ethan Hawke films, Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, then you’ve likely been looking forward to the third installment in the story, Before Midnight.  Sunrise tells the story of Jesse and Céline, who meet on a train in Europe.  Jesse is on his way to the airport in Vienna, and Céline is on her way home, to Paris.  Jesse has hours to kill before his flight leaves in the morning, and no money for a hotel, so plans to walk the streets of Vienna until sunrise.  He convinces Céline to join him, and they walk and talk and fall in love, and promise to meet again in the future.  Sunset takes place 9 years later, in Paris.  It turns out that Jesse and Céline never did meet up as planned, so he wrote a book about that fateful night and the connection he felt with Céline, even though their relationship had only lasted hours.  Céline comes to a book reading in Paris, and they again spend time together, walking and talking the streets while he waits for his flight back to the United States…to his wife and child.

Before Midnight brings us to Greece, 9 years after Sunset, and catches us up with Jesse and Céline.  They are together, living in Paris, and have twin 8 year old daughters.  He is writing, she is an environmental activist, and they are still very much in love…though not the heady, passionate love of youth from Sunrise, nor the intense longing-fueled love of Sunset.  Their relationship has grown and changed, and they are used to each other and their strengths and weaknesses in a way that they weren’t before.  In the first two movies, Jesse and Céline are trying to get to know each other, trying to show each other who they are.  Their love is full of new discoveries, sharing their innermost thoughts and all of their stories. They are delighted with everything they see and learn about each other. In Midnight, they know each other well, probably better than anyone else in the world. Though at times they find themselves wondering if this person next to them has anything more than a passing resemblance to that delightful person they first met 18 years ago.  There are compromises that have been made, resentments that have developed, and insecurities that threaten their future.  In Sunrise and Sunset, it is the world and outside circumstances that threaten their relationship.  In Midnight, it is them.

I really liked Before Midnight quite a bit, though I didn’t leave the theater with the happy, bubbly feeling that I did after the first two films.  If Sunrise and Sunset were romances, Midnight is a love story.  The story of what real life, and real love, can sometimes look and feel like.  I’m not sure I would want to be in a romantic relationship with either character, but I thought they brought a lot of sincerity and truth to the film.   If they decide to make a fourth film 9 years from now, I’ll be in line to see it.

Interesting trivia: when looking for pictures for this post, I found an interesting tidbit about the inspiration for Before Sunrise.  The night director Richard Linklater spent wandering the streets of Philadelphia with a woman, a night he never forgot and a woman with whom he felt a true connection.

Disturbing airbrushing:  look here, where a 40-something woman has to have the body of her 20-something year old self.  SO everything Céline rails against.

The Great Gatsby

Great Gatsby
For Mother’s Day, instead of sending Maya off to an AP U.S. History study group with her friends, we went to see ‘The Great Gatsby’ and then out for dinner.

We both really liked Gatsby a lot…especially Leonardo DiCaprio, whom I think was a far better, more vulnerable, weaker Gatsby than Robert Redford. And at heart, Gatsby is a weak man surrounded by tough guys, trying to finally grasp his unattainable dream. Carey Mulligan does a fine job as Daisy Buchanan, though she didn’t seem quite sparkly and shimmery enough to me. Daisy should be Champagne bubbles tickling your nose, and Mulligan is more like a serious Chardonnay. I liked Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway….he seemed enthralled (actually, perhaps a little bit in love) with Gatsby, willing to overlook his obvious flaws in his admiration of Gatsby’s eternal hope and optimism. Joel Edgerton was perfect as Tom Buchanan, quite the bully, the snob, wanting to have it all his way.

But the stars of The Great Gatsby are the language, the spectacular visuals, and the music. First and foremost is the language, which is difficult to translate into film. This problem is solved by jumping the film forward a few years, and having Nick write his issues down for his therapist. Because Nick is using the written word, we get some of the spectacular wording and phrases from Fitzgerald’s novel. Some of the very best parts.

The visuals were indeed spectacular, flashy and grand, just like the 20s. They were perfect. I’ll admit we didn’t see it in 3D. I have no use for 3D, and can’t say honestly that it has ever improved a movie for me. It always stands out and makes me notice the 3D (even Avatar), rather than staying in the story. The music had me a little nervous going in, but it was actually perfect. Gatsby is a very modern story, very aware of the excess and craziness of the era. Bringing some of today into the film, through the music, seemed like a really good idea to me.

I really, really recommend it. If you’re at all interested, go for it. Maybe try to get there a little earlier, so you don’t have to sit in the front row. It’s popular.

Friday Randomness

  • We went to see ‘From Up On Poppy Hill‘ last weekend, which is the latest film by the creator of Spirited Away, Ponyo, and My Neighbor Totoro. This film is different from the others in that there are no supernatural forces or characters at work. Rather, this is a story about two teenagers in Japan at the lead-up to the 1964 Olympics, and deals with the juxtaposition of tradition vs. modernism at that time. It was very sweet, very enjoyable, and I recommend it, though the ending was a bit abrupt. I do like all of these films, quite a bit.
  • Is Obama an idiot for suggesting that the answer to our problems is to cut Social Security, or is he plotting how to make the entire country say, “OH HELL, NO!”  Personally, I think it’s a bit of the idiot, because he’s so darned eager to capitulate to the Republicans, it makes me kind of sick.
  • When we hear stories about children who are obese, whose parents feed them whatever and don’t pay attention to the fact that they’re poisoning themselves, somehow child protective  services gets involved.  Yet look at this girl, who is underweight, and it’s a different story.  The girl has eaten nothing but ramen noodles for the last 13 years, they say she has the health of an 80 year old, she’s got more chemicals and salt and crap in her than could ever be deemed normal, and yet, does anyone get involved?  I don’t think so.
  • Allergies are crappy, right?  Right.  I’m suffering this morning.  Whilst out at the grocery store, I was chatting with the checker, and she said she saw an allergist a few years ago, who said that if you take a 24 hour allergy pill, you should take them at bedtime rather than in the morning.  This is because allergens in the air generally peak at around 3am, so if you take your pill before bed, your pill will be at its most effective when allergens are at their peak, so you’ll be better prepared, vs. trying to play catch-up by taking the pills when the allergens have already hit you.
  • Dishonest tip of the day.  If you buy the good Parmesan cheese,Parmigiano-Reggiano, it is often sold by the pound. I have recently found that if you dig through the various wedges at your local grocery store, there are sometimes wedges that are mislabled, and clearly weigh more than they are marked, so it’s like getting some free cheese. At $15 – $19 a pound, this can make at least a bit of a difference. I doubt that they would actually want you to bring this to their attention, as it would mean more work for them. That’s my justification at least.
  • Maya went from simple wisdom tooth extraction to dry socket, which means we have to apply a clove oil goopy Vaseline ointment to the socket twice a day.  Not easy to do, as she still can’t open her mouth completely.  Poor kid.
  • Tomorrow is the junior prom!  Gah.  I’ll have a picture for you next week, of Maya in her pretty dress.  Nowadays due to provisional drivers licenses, driving curfews, and perhaps trying to keep the kids from drinking, they are taken from school to prom site and home again in a chartered bus.  Also different from when I was a teen is that if a person doesn’t have a date, it’s perfectly socially acceptable to go stag.  A lot of kids are doing just that.  I think if you don’t have a boyfriend or girlfriend, it’s probably more fun, less pressure, to go and just dance and hang out with your friends.

The Call


Jordan Turner is a 911 operator in Los Angeles, taking panicked phone calls from people who are having their worst days ever. Gah, within the first minute of the film, I knew this was a job far beyond my personal coping level. No way could I stay calm and help people through the stuff that’s going on. Jordan (Halle Berry) is cool, calm, and collected, but not as detached as she needs to be, and soon, she makes a critical error.

Fast forward 6 months, and Jordon is no longer taking calls in the call center. She is haunted by her mistake, and unable to take the chance that something like that might happen again. She’s now training new hires on how to handle calls, walking them through the call center, when a relative newby gets a call that’s too much, she’s in over her head, so Jordan takes over.

I’ve said too much already, though I haven’t really given much away. I’m going to stop now, though, because this is a nail-biter of a film, and I don’t want to ruin it for you. I will say that it was VERY well made, freaked me the crap out, and made me happy to come home and see my daughter plugging away at her homework, safe and sound. Whew.